18 January 2012

Recorded Lecture: Stephen Duncombe, "Art of the Impossible: Utopia, Imagination, and Critical Media Practice"

Stephen Duncombe, Associate Professor at the Gallatin School and the Department of Media, Culture and Communications of New York University, talks utopias and critical medial production in this "insight" organised by Comparative Media Studies programmers at MIT and available for streaming or download from their website. In this incisive talk recorded in 2009, Duncombe explores the possible affects caused by a climate of information (over)abundance upon forms of political activism and cultural resistance.

Fascinated with the evolution of "truth" in a world drowning in information, and which speaks in the language of persistently debatable and mutable facts (which he brands "a surplus of truth") and its attendant surplus of critique, Duncombe posits that the traditional, "hard-hitting" versions of truth and critique have been subsumed and neutralised within the structure of prevailing hegemonic ideology.

While critique is rendered impotent by this process incorporation, critical media producers are thus responding by creating new practical forms for expression based not on "truth" but, rather, on fantasy and the portrayal of possible (albeit not promised) futurities. In presenting ultimately unbelievable, utopian alternatives, Duncombe suggests that these newly developing political practices leave space for the return of the currently displaced political through the interactions and responses of a public exposed to such critical media forms.
"There's another factor ... a much more profound one, a much more disturbing one for those who have been engaged in critical media practices, which is the exhaustion of critique. That is, those contemporary creators of media utopias, consciously or not, have come to the conclusion that rational criticism no longer has a critical function."

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